Advent Readings: Sunday December 1, 2013

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44

Reflections:
Advent is the season when Jesus’ followers remember his first coming, and practice watchful prayer and soulful readiness in anticipation of his second coming at the end of the age. Advent readings can aid our attentiveness to ways God comes to us now in comfort and care, provision and help, safe-keeping and sustenance while we wait for Christ to come again. Jesus’ invitation to keep watch means to be awake, to be fully conscious or present to God in our daily lives. During Advent, we become mindful of: Christ among us, Christ within us, Christ’s coming to us again…and again!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Can you identify places in your life that need God’s help: places of struggle, failure, disappointment? Awaken to these places of discomfort or challenge. Acknowledge your difficulty to God.
  2. Christians for centuries have responded to Christ’s promise of his second coming with a prayer: O Lord Come! or Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev.22:20). Use these words as you talk to God honestly about the challenges in your life. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s refreshment to renew hope for God to come to you, even now.
  3. Advent calls our attention to the tensions of waiting as we watch for Christ’s second coming. Waiting often makes us feel unproductive, helpless or leaves us to endure long periods of time without resolution or fulfillment. How might you embrace the invitation to wait on God for provision, answers, help and the return of Jesus without resolving the discomfort of waiting?
  4. Consider taking on a daily practice during Advent to train the soul to: awaken to God, to be present to God. In the evening or morning, look over your day (or the day prior). Ask yourself:
    • Where was I awake (or present to) God’s activities in my life, in the lives of those around me today?
    • Are there areas where I might become more aware of God’s presence with me?
    • Where would I like to see God and his kingdom come, now, to me, to those in my life?

– Elizabeth Khorey and Michelle Sudduth

Lord, teach us to pray

Lord, Teach Us To Pray… Part 1 (Luke 11:1)

The Lord’s Prayer, which we say together in church each Sunday, was the form of prayer Jesus gave to his first friends when they asked him how to pray. From my earliest recollection as a young child The Lord’s Prayer has been my primer. I cut my teeth on it as I kneeled with my mom and sister at our bedsides to say our night-time prayers. Candidly, I first experienced the concept of child-like faith and holy reverence through these ancient words, not through theological training.  As I grow spiritually and fill out the skeletal structure of the prayer through study and meditation, my heart and imagination widens from the experience of God’s parental care described in it. I return often to the desire of incarnational kingdom living as I work and live in the hustle bustle of Orange and L.A. counties. I wrestle with my own self-sufficiency under the canopy of simply asking for provisional needs to be met by Another.  My faith develops as I daily taste God’s goodness to answer those requests. Even the most difficult relational and spiritual challenges in my life are transformed by the uncanny force of forgiveness and perseverance as I lean more resolutely into God during troubled moments.

 

Dallas Willard called The Lord’s Prayer the greatest prayer of all, wherein we learn how and what to pray from the One who, while on earth, prayed to his Father in heaven.[i] It is considered to be a holistic way of praying, as Richard Foster says, a total prayer.[ii] In it, Foster asserts that we pray large things and small things, spiritual things and material things, inward things and outward things – nothing is beyond the purview of this prayer.[iii]

 

Take a few moments today to engage with God through the words Jesus taught his disciples to pray. (Matt. 6:9-13)

This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

 

Watch for part 2 of Lord, Teach Us to Pray…in it I’ll offer some helpful ways to fruitfully engage with this prayer in order to widen your heart’s experience with God.

– Elizabeth Khorey



[i] Willard, Dallas, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, Harper Publishing, San Francisco, CA. 1997, 253-255.

[ii] Foster, Richard, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s Home, Harper One Publishing, 1992, 184.

[iii] Ibid.

Simple Spiritual Practices for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday! It’s a little less cluttered with material goods than Christmas and can (if we let it) exert a unique influence on our development of a Kingdom life, an eternal kind of life. We’ve found this happens best when we build in some basic spiritual practices around the holiday to create an ongoing, daily spirit of thankfulness to our Lord.

We start our own thanksgiving practices early—the first of the month! On November 1st, we hang a Thanksgiving Calendar in the walkway and divide up 30 index cards evenly between us and begin thinking and writing down the events, people, or blessings over the past year for which we’re genuinely grateful. Once we’re done we put the cards (randomly) into the pockets of the calendar. Then, before dinner each day, we pull out the index card for that day and read it together. We’ve found this turns our meals (and month) in the direction of genuine thankfulness—which a great thing in and of itself, of course, but is also an especially appropriate way to end the Christian year, before the first Sunday of Advent (the first day of the Christian calendar) rolls around!

In the evening we also try to make time for at least two minutes of thanksgiving—two minutes we intentionally free up for spending in silence or thanking God aloud for anything that comes to mind. This practice focuses us not just on the past year’s events, but also on the little events of our day. Sometimes John will have more to share, and sometimes I will. The only rule is: no requests of God during these two minutes are only words are to be words of thanksgiving.

It’s also worth considering giving a gift, in Jesus’ name, to someone you know who is in need, as a thank offering to the Lord for how He has blessed you or your family. If you have children—especially pre-teens or teenagers—you might want to consider having a family discussion about some person, family or organization that you as a family might be able to bless this season. We’ve seen families who do this watch their children catch the gift of worshipful thankfulness from an early age, and even begin leading the way in living it out once they’ve caught it!

As the year comes to a close, may the LORD bless your remembrance of His gifts!

– John & Erika Saladino

Homo Consumens and the Desire for Presence

More than one writer has observed that entering the modern upscale mall is like stepping into a cathedral. (See most recently, James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom). Large pillars or high arches frame the entryways. Vaulted ceilings with skyward glass or regal rotundas give us a sense of the sublime—a feeling of transcendence. Looking down at the veined marblesque floors, we feel ourselves sliding across antiquity. And the shops—they are like so many quaint chapels where we can taste and see the sacraments of our age. If we are supplicants in these modern cathedrals, coming in search of some Real Presence, we do so as a new breed. We are not worshippers, but consumers. We are homo consumens.

The homo consumens, wrote Psychologist Erich Fromm, is one “whose main interest becomes, aside from working from nine to five, to consume.” His attitude is that of “the eternal suckling” who “with the open mouth . . . consumes everything with voracity — liquor, cigarettes, movies, television, lectures, books, art exhibits, sex; everything is transformed into an article of consumption.” More than 30 years ago (On Disobedience and Other Essays 1981), Fromm’s words may have seemed cynical. Now, it is a way of life. Although we may wince at the label, our life as homo consumens—to the degree that we can afford it–is the new normal.

As a good psychologist, however, Fromm looks at the thing behind the thing, and this is what he sees: “we know that behind this urge to consume there is an inner vacuity — a sense of emptiness. There is, in fact, a sense of depression, a sense of loneliness.” And he knows “there is something very deeply wrong with this.”

Philosophers and cognitive scientists have confirmed that we live much of our lives through “image schemas”—quasi-pictorial representations that fit and make sense of our lived experience, however unconsciously. For instance, TIME as MONEY: we “spend it,” often don’t “have it,” and so can’t “spare it” or “afford it.” Emptiness and fullness also are dual metaphors that seem to capture our lived experience. We might say someone is “full of anger,” “filled with jealously,” or “full of it!” Alternately, an event or incident may “leave us empty” or “hollow.” The loss of a loved one has left a “hole” in our lives. We sometimes feel “drained” or like we “have nothing left to give.”

Of course, many of these metaphors are rooted in our very bodies. In the case of hunger, to be filled feels better for most of us than feeling empty. (Aristotle observed that it is not taste that is pleasurable, but the sensation of swallowing—the anticipation of filling. Otherwise, dieting would be easy; we’d just taste and spit it out!) Emotionally, too, we dread feeling empty and instead long to be filled—with passion, with vision, with love. And this brings us back to Fromm’s concern. That the consumer impulse that we now see as normal is instead a symptom of a deep and increasingly untreated malady that he calls “a sense of loneliness.”

Contemporary psychologists of Attachment Theory tell us that we are at root relational beings. We are hard-wired to connect with others and, while the data is still coming in, the modern versions of connection (social networking, hooking up) do not seem to be filling us up. The symptoms are not just linked to consumer throngs, but can be seen even where noble aspirations and activities substitute for the real presence of relationships.

For Christians familiar with the Bible, this discussion should remind us of the invitations to a filling of presence: be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20), Jesus’ In them and You in me (John 17:23). And we recognize that our enthusiasm to learn about God or work for Him is not always the same as letting ourselves be filled with Him. Granted, this filling is a mystery, though not much more mysterious than love itself. It cannot always be easily described, although it can be pursued and known—or else there would be no sense in commanding it. And this calling to “be filled”–to let some One’s presence grow in us–is a high calling, for this relational presence is our deepest human need–by design. If we humans don’t follow this invitation to a Person, our emptiness will seek to be filled with some-thing. But then, we will only be left alone with our things.